Notes from Shanghai and Voices from China

Our son, Thomas, is in his second year of his double master’s degree at Fudan University in Shanghai. At the moment, he is also doing an internship at Sixth Tone, and he published the following article:  (no longer available)

Why do I publish this? I’m a ruthless parent, and I want his work to get more coverage. Very simple.

How to Beat Homesickness

On GoOverseas I read the article 19 Ways to Reduce Homesickness When Living Abroad, which reminded me of  my own battle with it at times while I lived in the U.S. and Japan for close to ten years.

These 19 pointers are definitely worth reading, and yet, I’d also like to add a few of my own.

20. Don’t blame your host country when things go wrong

Remember we had rough days in our home country too. But it is so easy to point the finger, e.g. at a U.S. regulation flaw or the Japanese bureaucracy. There are things you probably disagreed with in your country of origin as well. Keep that in mind when confronted with challenges.

21. Volunteer to make friends and contacts

While waiting for my U.S. work permit, I opted to use the university library to use my time wisely. I was able to help others less fortunate in language skills to navigate their way around. OK, this was unofficial volunteering, but I made some wonderful friends along the way.

In Japan, e.g. I volunteered at a children’s home and made sure to limit my time to 6 weeks. That way, if paying work came up, I’d be free and without hard feelings for having to stop.

22. Learn how to cook some local food

In exchange for English conversation, I learned how to make some home-cooked Japanese food. We chose recipes with easy to get ingredients and I really enjoyed the process. I kept the empty packets, so I’d know what to pick up from the supermarket the next time around. It also gave me a sense of self-sufficiency.
A full stomach with good food, good company, and a sense of accomplishment is at times more satisfying than a night out.

23. Blog about it!

This is your chance to share your writing and photos.You will be making more friends along the way. I have since I’ve kept this blog. And I’m not even in a foreign country, but after all these years of living abroad, even Germany can seem odd to me at times.

24. An opportunity to discover your strengths and weaknesses

There is no better time to take a look at yourself than when you are living abroad. You think you know yourself? Try again. Under normal circumstances, our reactions are predictable. But add language confusion and different cultural expectations, then you will get to see a new you.

What used to annoy you before, you will suddenly find quaint. And vice versa. You do not have to reinvent yourself, your new environment will do this for you. Be prepared for some surprises.


Living abroad can be a very fulfilling experience if you are willing to contribute.

Our son has just recently moved to the U.K. to attend college. The first two weeks were difficult as he had a bad cold and was room-bound most of the time while being homesick. I shared some of my advice with him and since then we have not heard from him, which was two weeks ago…

The other 19 pointers can be read here at  GoOverseas 19 Ways to Reduce Homesickness When Living Abroad

The New Culture of Emoticons

Roughly about the same time my husband forwarded me the article Emoticons Move to the Business World, featured in the New York Times, I asked a Korean high school student to teach me some emoticons, Korean style.

Since my husband and his colleagues (one of them had forwarded the article to him) are members of the English department, it is somewhat obvious they’d approve of real words to show emotion.

At the same time, maybe by coincidence, none of them are on facebook or twitter. My husband’s argument against social media is that he does not have time for it. He might, if he only wrote some emoticons along with his words. Darn, I almost used one now.

The article itself was very good to read. And yes, I do refrain from using emoticons in business e-mails. In business, using them is stepping too close to the subject, more like slapping your business partner on his back.

But when on social media, it becomes a necessary tool. At times, I might only have a minute to comment on somebody’s post and the emoticon saves me a lot of time from trying to explain I was only (trying to be) witty. See, these three words could have been substituted by one simple sign.

In real life, we can use our facial features to transcend the mood of the speaker. In social media, with so many non-native speakers around in the global network, we want to make doubly sure we are understood. And what better way than to accentuate it with a smiley face.

I had fun learning these Korean emoticons today and want to share them with you. Frankly, I can’t wait to add one of them to a post on facebook this evening.

^^ = happy

T.T = sad

-_- = annoyed

-_-;; = embarrassed

>< = totally excited

:S = confused



An Ode to Teachers

The New York Times, carrying the article In Honor of Teachers by Charles M. Blow, made me remember my favorite teacher at the German Gymnasium – Frau Feinbier, our native French teacher. She was married to a German, hence the very German name.

It was her teaching in my very first year of French, which helped me develop a life-long passion for the language. She made the language and the subject come alive and even today in business, I still benefit from it.

On the other hand,  Mr. Blow writes about the drawbacks of being a teacher. Among those is the fairly low pay for this  academic position. About 20 years ago, I saw an  unforgettable advertisement at a local department store in  the U.S.A., which read:      Help wanted! Ideal for students, housewives and teachers.

In contrast to teachers in the German system, taking on any paid employment outside their teaching job is strictly forbidden ( allowances are made in special cases). Many  public school teachers are government employees and fairly well reimbursed for their work.

In addition, add on a general public resentment of teachers based on a preconception of short working hours, good pay, long breaks, etc. Just the other day, I was at a German get-together, where one of the women complained about the laziness of her daughter’s German teachers. All eyes were on my when one of the friends pointed out I was a teacher. I was excused from this tribunal when I said I was a private teacher.

I don’t know when this all started. In the 60s, attending Volksschule (elementary school), teachers still carried a high status and earned a lot of respect. In the early 70s,  starting Gymnasium (prep college school), I heard the first complaints about German teachers.

German teachers generally do not have a work desk at school. They do their outside-of- the- classroom work at home. So walking your dog in broad daylight lets Germans assume you are done working for the day, when the teacher might just be taking a break.

It might be a good idea to give teachers in the German system a regular desk at school to work after-hours. It would also be good to make teachers more accessible to parents, when contact between parents and teachers is strictly limited to parent-teacher conferences (in general).

I would not want to be a teacher in the German school system – there is very little appreciation, the teachers can or have to be as rigid as the system, and both sides – parents and teachers alike – are often on the defensive side.

There is no ode for German teachers.

Germany’s Latest Plagiarism Case

I actually wondered what took them so long… as soon as a few Germans learn of some new ways to take some old opponents down, there sure will be more to follow.

Today’s article, The Whiff of Plagiarim Again Hits German Elite in the New York Times, tells of three new plagiarism cases under investigation.

At the international school we belong to, plagiarism has always been cause for expulsion. At most German schools and colleges though, it is seen as a trivial offense.

It is amazing how such a rigid society can have such loose regulations in regards to academic work. This is all about to change right now.

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